Congenital cataracts are a medical condition during which a child is born with cloudy eye lenses. Congenital cataracts can occur in one or both eyes. Depending on the severity of the condition, congenital cataracts may interfere with the child's vision. In these cases, surgical removal of the cataracts may be required.
Congenital cataracts occur when a newborn’s eye lenses are cloudy, as opposed to the clear lenses occurring in healthy newborns. In severe cases, the newborn’s vision may be hampered. This condition may require lens surgery to correct. Congenital cataracts can be seen as a white or gray cloudiness in the newborn’s pupil, which would otherwise be black. The newborn may also exhibit nystagmus, or abnormal rapid eye movements.
Causes of Congenital Cataracts
In many cases, the cause of congenital cataracts cannot be distinctly determined. However, a number of preexisting medical conditions may also contribute to the development of congenital cataracts in newborns. Congenital cataracts in newborns occur rarely.
Medical conditions causing congenital cataracts may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Congenital rubella, or German measles contracted by a newborn’s mother
- Chondrodysplasia syndrome, or a group of disorders affecting the skin, eyes, skeletal system, and mental functioning
- Down syndrome, a physical and mental growth delay resulting from abnormal genetic development
- Lowe syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing mental and physical handicaps and various medical issues
- Galactosemia, a condition during which the body cannot properly metabolize the simple sugar called galactos
Diagnosing Congenital Cataracts
If a newborn is suspected to have congenital cataracts, a pediatric ophthalmologist should conduct a comprehensive eye exam. A pediatrician with a specialty in inherited disorders may also be consulted. X-rays or blood tests may be performed to confirm the condition. Mild cases of newborn congenital cataracts may not require treatment, as the newborn’s vision may not be affected. Newborns may need treatment in the event of more severe cases or cases where a congenital cataract affects only one eye.
Congenital Cataract Treatment
Treatment typically includes removal of the congenital cataracts. In cases where the genetic cause can be determined, specialists may choose to treat the underlying medical condition. After the cataract is removed, doctors may insert an intraocular lens (IOL) into the affected eyes. However, this treatment is controversial when used for infants. Some specialists believe that artificial lens insertion may hamper the infant’s eye growth and development. In the absence of an IOL, the infant will require the use of a contact lens or eye glasses.
Congenital Cataract Treatment Considerations
Use of an intraocular lens (IOL), contact lens, or eyeglasses is a necessary next step after the congenital cataract removal. Vision correction devices will ensure that the infant’s visual system develops properly to promote healthy vision through early childhood and adulthood. Timing for congenital cataract treatment should be planned with a pediatric specialist. A number of experts believe that congenital cataracts should be removed between the ages of six weeks to three months.
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